It shouldn’t be a surprise to advertisers that 8 out of every 10 North Carolinians prefer to preserve roadside trees rather than see them clear cut to provide an even wider view of the messages some still post on the 8,000 outdoor billboards throughout this incredibly scenic state.
Nor is this something new. Nearly 40 years ago, by 7 to 1, North Carolina voters amended the State Constitution “to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty” (Section 5, Article XIV.)
Signaling the protection of and “right” to trees as an enduring value is the fact that it has grown even deeper among North Carolinians during a period when the state’s population has all but doubled since the time this protection was embedded by voters in the constitution.
This was something lost or ignored during the last regular session of the General Assembly when hundreds of thousands of publicly-owned trees were surrendered to out-of-state billboard interests, the largest of which is owned by and under pressure from a Washington-insider private equity firm, without even so much as asking for compensation or requiring replanting.
The right to trees isn’t anything personal to advertising. It is just that North Carolinians place a much greater value on trees, especially the ones the public owns.
Nor can it be misconstrued as opposition to business. The constitutional protection of trees was sponsored by a member of the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame who had previously spearheaded state economic development and tourism promotion.
The desire to preserve “as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty” is public recognition that these things are not only critical to tourism, one of the state’s largest sectors of business and jobs, but central to North Carolina’s signature popularity with relocating and expanding businesses.
So why do I, as a now-retired 40-year veteran, appear to many to be the only tourism marketing/economic development voice standing up for the preservation-values North Carolinians place on trees both in their state constitution and along roadways?
I should know, right? I admit, many of us in tourism don’t always appear to be the brightest bulbs or very passionate; and like many in the outdoor billboard industry, too many of us seem just plain amoral.
An adaptation of a line written by journalist David Wilkening that “tourism kills the things it loves” echoes to me as so many in that business wait and watch, standing silently by while sycophants wield the chain saws as outdoor billboard companies are set to do.
Far too many in tourism are just “harvesters” failing to grasp that it is the sense-of-place attributes of North Carolina and its communities that are wrapped into marketing to generate the visitation upon which they feast.
Many of those marketing tourism seem to openly violate not only the preservation values of the state but the very norms of the communities they represent. At best they are enablers of those who do.
Many in tourism marketing, like those for most products or services, have never grasped that they are accountable not only for those customers whose interest they light up, but also for those they turn off.
The 1 in 10 North Carolinians who use or respond to messages on outdoor billboards certainly have rights but they don’t trump the rights of 8 times that many who place much greater value on the trees billboard companies want to destroy.
This is why so many advertisers come off as superficial, like the spokesperson one company who tried to rationalize continuing to advertise on a program that many others recently deemed reprehensible by commenting only that:
"As an advertiser, our goal is to reach a broad audience, which we accomplish by placing ads on a number of programs across the country representing diverse views."
Never mind how offensive, harmful, off-putting and vitriolic those diverse views are that this company’s advertising underwrites.
There is a growing, if not already prevailing view by many in advertising that it is in fact the brand being advertised that is most at-risk of being negatively tainted in the minds of consumers when core “values” are violated, whether by a billboard company or distasteful program content.
However I certainly do not stand alone in defense of the rights and values of North Carolinians, even as a veteran of tourism/economic development or marketing when it comes to protecting trees and scenic character from those who value outdoor billboards more.
I merely stand on the shoulders of past marketing giants who have warned against the excesses of outdoor billboards such as David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage; and my passion is amplified by some still in their prime such as the most recent recipient of the state tourism sector’s Bill Sharpe public service award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the development and promotion of NC tourism and many others who will soon follow her lead.
We’re also joined by other market such as Minnesota-based videographer Ossian Or and Marc Gobé who co-founded Desgrippes, one of the top 5 global branding firms and then created the New York-based think tank Emotional Branding.
Keep the faith and to join us in defense of North Carolina’s constitutional values and rights such as the preservation of our forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty, email firstname.lastname@example.org .